Ahead of this year’s Donatella Flick LSO Conducting Competition, we caught up with 2010 winner Clemens Schuldt to ask him about his experience in the competition, his advice for young conductors and plans for the future.
How did you enjoy the experience of being in the Donatella Flick?
A competition always has its own excitement. There were some real moments to enjoy when you forget the jury sitting around you, moments when music making takes over completely, when you have eye-contact with the musicians – both with the Guildhall students and LSO players. For me personally, the competition was also an opportunity to meet good colleagues and make new friends.
Any favourite and/or particularly memorable moments?
My favourite moment was my first contact with the LSO; the sound of the cello in the beginning of Tristan’s Prelude. Also, their extremely sensitive reaction to my gestures was impressive, especially the two wind players – oboe and clarinet – leading the melody out of this tragic chord. I had the feeling that they’re not only reading my gestures but also my musical imagination; my feelings.
What did it feel like to win the whole competition?
As a sportsman in my childhood I always wanted to win, however in a final with two other great conductors you just feel honoured and lucky to get up to this point. When I heard my name I was completely overwhelmed. Though exhausted, I was very happy.
What have been your personal highlights of being the LSO’s Assistant Conductor?
All the moments when I could stand in front of the orchestra – in LSO Discovery Concerts or other performances with the broad range of repertoire from Beethoven’s Fifth to The Incredibles. It’s uncountable how many moving concerts that the LSO have played. Having been involved in the rehearsal stages as well as numerous conversations with the musicians offered great insights and was a truly inspiring experience.
What was it like working with distinguished conductors like Sir Colin Davis, Valery Gergiev, Simon Rattle etc. and what do you think is the most important thing you have learned from them about being a conductor?
Sir Colin’s sensitive and humble preparation of his programme impressed me. Sir Simon’s knowledge and the way he shares it is unique. From my experience, the image of the big maestro and big egos often portrayed is just not true from my experience. All the conductors I met were still searching, still exploring and working hard and at the highest level one could imagine.
What is the LSO like to conduct and how does it differ from other orchestras you’ve worked with?
I felt very comfortable; the atmosphere is one of intense concentration but is also relaxed. The number of incredibly inspiring solo players is extraordinary. On the surface it seems easy to conduct them as they follow your every gesture so perfectly. And sometimes they take you to another level by inspiring you, making you change your first idea about a phrase. It´s an honour and a gift to conduct this orchestra!
What qualities do you think a good conductor needs?
Some requirements are without doubt very important: A strong and imaginative conception of the music and an ability to transmit these musical ideas to the musicians – technically and emotionally. But I believe in that ‘click’ with an orchestra –no technique or genius of interpretation can work without that honest and growing trust, just like in a relationship between two people.
What do you think makes a good rehearsal?
An experienced maestro knows exactly what needs to be repeated and what doesn’t. Valery Gergiev, for example, would play through a symphony, work on some bits for 30 minutes and what a miracle – the performance was great. Of course, it depends on the orchestra, the LSO and British orchestras in general are very quick in their ability to improve, but a good rehearsal never feels like 3 hours work!
What projects are you preparing for right now?
I am starting to prepare the first performance of Ed Nesbit’s Parallels for the premiere with the LSO in November and the programmes for my debut with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, as well as the Deutsches Sinfonie Orchester Berlin. I am especially looking forward to go on assisting Valery Gergiev in Rotterdam in a few months.
You have done a lot of work with LSO’s music education programme, LSO Discovery. What do you enjoy most about working with young musicians?
Their curiosity and their passion for any kind of classical music, even ‘modern-sounding’ pieces by Prokofiev and John Adams seemed to attract them! What we do every day is for them a unique or at least memorable moment in their life. I truly admire the LSO’s approach to young audiences which you can see from their concerts which fill up the Barbican Centre even at 10am in the morning! I loved being part of that.
What would be the one piece of advice you would give to a young conductor at the start of their career?
Always be self-critical but most importantly, believe in yourself.
This year’s competition final takes place at the Barbican on Sunday 30 September 2012, 7pm. To book your place in the audience, click here.